246 A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
island, I found the Sheikh sitting on crossed legs upon the verandah, patiently awaiting my arrival. He greeted me with a smile, as I took off my sun-helmet and invited him to come in and have some tea. He thanked me but refused, saying he would enter only for a chat.
An hour afterwards, as a result of that chat, the snake-charmer had accepted me as his pupil, "You are not only my first European pupil—you are but the second pupil I have ever had."
I understood the allusion too well. His first pupil had been his youngest son, whom he had trained for several months to succeed him and take up the same profession after his father's death. One day, after the boy had learnt the secret lore, Moussa sent him,out into the desert alone—the first time that he had not accompanied the boy—saying: "Now your training is concluded. Go out and catch your first snake by yourself."
The boy never returned, and when the father went to seek for him, he found him dead.
He lay doubled up, his features and body showing the violent death-throes that accompany the agonizing results of a fatal snake-bite.
His father's explanation was that a snake-charmer was not only made, but born, i.e. he must have an innate tendency to the work. The boy had not this tendency, but the father had selected him for reasons of convenience. However, he said that he had three other sons, and when, through old age, he could no longer carry on, or when he sensed the approach of death, he then would initiate one of them to take his place.
Moussa made me understand that I was not a professional but an honorary pupil, and I had to promise that I would not take up the work of snake-charming for pecuniary profit. The reason why he did not make very clear, but I gathered that he had obtained his own initiation under certain pledges not to reveal the secrets imparted to him, except to a member of his own family whom he was to select and train as his successor. .Apparently this was intended to keep the knowledge within the family, thereby placing the latter in an exceptional, profitable and influential position. Moussa explained that his own teacher, therefore, had been his father, Sheikh Mahmed; and that the latter, in turn, had been trained by his grandfather.
Of the last-mentioned gentleman, Moussa told me another anecdote, in illustration of the importance of exercising some